Film Review: “Melinda and Melinda?”

For a number of different reasons it’s difficult to make any kind of qualitative judgment about Woody Allen’s newest film. The film offers too many indications of genre types and categories. But oddly enough, or maybe not if you’re a Woody Allen fan, this peculiar characteristic is responsible for the film’s successful portions.

“Melinda and Melinda” takes place within two separate stories, framed by a third scenario that occasionally interrupts the narrative of the aforementioned main plots. The general premise, and one which Allen seems very happy to explore, is that two playwrights, one famous for his comedies and the other for tragedies, are having dinner with friends and a general scenario is proposed in which a woman bursts in on a dinner party looking quite disheveled. The two gentlemen, played by Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine, immediately begin telling their versions of the story, one obviously sees the makings of a romantic comedy and the other sees a grim tragedy.

A little forced, but an interesting premise thus far. Then, by the magic of cinema, but under the pretenses of a theatrical mindset, the respective stories unfold, leaving the dinner friends to listen and imagine I suppose. The comedy narrative is written in the style to which Woody Allen is perpetually wed. Will Ferrell, forgiving his often overly comedic expressions for the part, plays the Woody Allen surrogate and eventually falls for Melinda (Radha Mitchell), the mutual protagonist of both stories. It is in every way, as the comedy playwright foresaw, a surprisingly enjoyable romantic comedy.

The tragedy portion, however, runs into some problems. Be it on purpose or by accident, the dialogue, much like that of the theater, is over dramatic and lacking in any form of subtlety that cinematic medium captures best. The audience was left confused, which also might be Allen’s intent, as they nervously giggled at overly painful and absurd turns for the worst experienced by the less than lucky Melinda. However, despite this possible inside joke with himself, Allen’s stab at transferring the drama of theater to the screen falls short of convincing anyone. With a few entertaining points, the film indicates a step in the right direction for Allen who recently has been only sullying his name. For those interested in theater, especially, it will certainly raise questions that might not have been fully verbalized at dinner conversations of a similar nature.

“Melinda and Melinda” opens Friday in Washington D.C.

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